Revisiting Promises


Teacher’s Note: This session links to the lesson Story Promises.


  • Download and print copies of the Circle Map, one between two.
  • A range of dictionaries. Ideally, dictionaries from different publishers and online dictionaries. At least one dictionary about the Oxford Concise Dictionary’s level, as junior dictionaries are unlikely to have the more nuanced definitions need for this word investigation.


Begin by displaying the single word ‘promise’. Remind the children about the discussion in the session

Use a Circle Map (David Hyerle, 2008) to explore the concept. 

Write the word ‘promise’ in the central circle. 

In the large circle, make notes about the different things you associate with the word ‘promise’.

Working in pairs, look up and record the definitions for ‘promise’. 

They should record the definitions in their language books or vocabulary journals.

Put each of the definitions into a sentence. Looking at the definition in context is an important element of word learning.

Dictionary Definition My own sentence

The following definitions are taken from the Oxford English Dictionary.

  • A declaration or assurance that one will do something or that a particular thing will happen. (‘I did not keep my promise to go home early’)
  • An indication that something is likely to occur. (‘dawn came with the promise of fine weather’)
  • The quality of potential excellence. (‘he showed great promise even as a junior officer’)

Other words for a promise

Does anyone know another word that can be used for a promise? Use a thesaurus to find other words. Some to include: oath (used legally) vow (older usage but still used in marriage ceremonies)

Ask the children to look at their Circle Maps, which definition is closest to what they have written.

Final reflection

Return to the text. In pairs, ask the children to think about which definition of promise most closely matches the title.

Challenge them to look through the book again to see if they could apply one of the other definitions to the story. (For instance, perhaps the old woman saw the promise of something good in the young girl.)

Nothing, Everything, No one


Purposeful readers reflect on why an author chooses particular sentence structures, particularly when more unusual choices are made. A writer’s choice of words affects how we respond. Nicola Davies uses short sentences to powerful effect.  Investigating this in the context of a familiar book provides a meaningful context for learning about grammar. The features explored can then be applied to the children’s own writing.


  • Copies of The promise, at least one per pair. 
  • The sentences: ‘Nothing grew. Everything was broken. No one ever smiled.’ displayed on the whiteboard.


Write the three words: nothing, everything and no one on the board. Distribute copies of The Promise and ask pairs to find the words in the story. 

Display the sentences: 

Nothing grew. Everything was broken. No one ever smiled.


  • What do you notice about these sentences? (Identify that they are short and that each sentence begins with a pronoun.)
  • Why do you think Nicola Davies chose to write three short sentences here? How does it make you feel? 

Challenge pairs to experiment with changing the order of the openings, for example:  

Nothing was broken. 

Everything smiled. 

No one grew. 

Discuss which sentences still make sense. 

Now ask pairs to write their own sentences using the three pronouns to reflect the ending of the book and the changes that have taken place in the city. Some examples are shown below:  

Nothing was grey.

Everything was green. 

No one ever frowned.

Everything grew.

Nothing was broken.

No one was ever alone.  

Give time for drafting and redrafting, reminding the class that their first attempt might not be the best one. During the writing time, stop to ask pairs to share their sentences. Finally, distribute A3 paper and ask pairs to create a double-page spread with their chosen three sentences. This could be extended into an art session, depending on how much time you have. 

Final reflection


  • Are there any other pronouns that could be used? (List suggestions. Some are: everyone, nobody, something, someone.)

Experiment with changing some sentences and consider whether it has an impact on the meaning.